In my last post, I talked about my failure to kick a self-motivated college go-getter to the curb, and thus how I managed to secure a superfluous newspaper subscription.
But if my faith teaches anything, it's that even the worst situations can be redeemed.
So what's the silver lining of receiving an extra newspaper every day, aside from the smug feeling that we're simultaneously saving a dying industry and filling our recycling bin each week? Two words: crossword puzzles.
My new obsession with crossword puzzles began one day as I was waiting for Abby at the train station. Usually I take a book to read, but the book I was reading didn't interest me very much, and I hadn't yet resigned myself to abandoning it (something I have since done). So needing some alternative occupation while I waited, I turned to my new newspaper. But all of the stories were Republican primary related, and I have no stomach for circuses (too many clowns...bad experiences). In moments like these, I turn to the comics for solace. But the comics in the Daily Herald are subpar, except for Dilbert. That's when, on the same page, my eyes fell on the crossword puzzle.
For being what others call a "word nerd," I don't have much street cred. I don't care for Scrabble, eliminated in my third game from the editorial department's 2007 double-elimination tournament, and while I'm pretty good at Boggle, it took lots of practice to make me so. I'm not very quick on the draw when asked to give a synonym, and I often find semantic arguments daunting (though I love grammatical ones). It's true that in lunch conversations in college, my frequent cry was, "To the OED!" But I have mellowed in my old age, and I have not since cracked the cover of even one volume in that massive tome.
All of that considered, crossword puzzles have never had much draw for me before. Sudoku is more my bag. (I have always loved logic puzzles, and what is Sudoku but logic?) I'm not sure why I didn't like crosswords. I think the reason is that I considered them the puzzle equivalent of Trivial Pursuit--a game I detest--just a catalogue of obscure information.
I don't know what it was on this day that made me bypass the Sudoku for the crossword, but I did. And what I found was startling. I realized that, yes, some of the clues demanded obscure information I had no way of knowing, but the majority of the clues were playful synonyms. For example, a recent clue from the New York Times's crossword (the Sunday Times crossword is published in the Daily Herald) read, "Not a good hand for raising." My mind immediately turned toward school and raising my hand for a question. Abby's thinking was more nimble on this one, and I was proud of her when she wrote the answer ONE PAIR.
Anyway, after I began that initial puzzle in the car, when we got home, I asked Abby if she wanted to help me with the puzzle over dinner. I'm not sure we completed that puzzle (even though it was the Monday Herald, which is about as easy as they come), but we've attempted almost every puzzle since. Our ideal difficulty is the Wednesday Tribune puzzle, which is hard enough to make us think, but doable enough to be gratifying once it's complete. We attempt the Sunday Times puzzle each week, and we get more done each week we attempt it, but it seems out of reach for a while.
The Herald puzzles aren't all that great, but they do arrive daily (we're on the four-day Tribune plan). The Tribune and Times puzzles are often better because the clues are cleverer and there is usually a theme to the whole puzzle. (For example, in one Tribune puzzle, there was a vowel pattern in most of the large answers in the puzzle, and one clue was asking for the pattern. I recognized that the pattern was consonant-vowel-two consonants-vowel, etc., but it came to me later that even deeper, the pattern was I-O-O. I was quite excited when I answered the clue with ONE HUNDRED.) The Herald writers can be lazy, and we've noticed a shorthand in some of the clues. The leading female in The Avengers, for example, is UMA, and I've had that clue a few times. (The crossword writers consider that clue to be obscure information; they forget the hundreds of people, myself included, whom that movie swindled out of their money.)
We will probably still cancel the Herald...but we will certainly miss our daily puzzle.